Larry Sullivan

Larry Sullivan

Okay, I admit it. I’m prejudice.

In fact, on this particular subject, I’m as biased as possible. And I’m proud of it.

After all, I’m a product of which I preach.

To this very day, American Legion baseball continues to tug at my very heartstrings when it comes to the following of baseball. Consider it a generational connection.

During my personal peak playing time, way back into the late 1970’s, American Legion baseball was the only game in town. It was a privilege just to receive an invitation to the team’s tryouts. The goal of actually making the team and earning the right to wear a Post 66 Moors uniform was reward enough.

At the time, the organization was a territorial representative. In addition to potential players from throughout Iredell County, the squad also attracted some prospects from bordering Rowan and Catawba counties based on the respective residences of prospects. There was true competition in place not just for positions but for limited roster space. In short, it truly meant something to merit bearing the honor of making the cut.

Sacrifices had to be made. Recent high school seniors had to re-arrange planned celebration trips around the team’s playing schedule. Penalties were strict. The missing of one team practice resulted in automatically being unavailable for any starting assignment. The absence of a game tinkered on the brink of being released entirely from the squad. More than one teammate arrived at a game site just in the nick of the start of preparations still feeling the after-effects of a quick turnaround beach trip experience.

Mooresville’s longstanding investment in American Legion baseball is merely a branch of the existing relationship the entire state has developed at the level. Just last year, the state, regional and national finals of American Legion baseball were all held within North Carolina’s border. So richly engrossed is the state that it has been awarded the permanent site of the AL World Series that takes place each summer to crown the champion on a national level.

Sad to say, but the demise of Legion baseball simply cannot be ignored. The presence of pay-for-play travel-style competition continues to pull at the very foundation. American Legion organizers at every level are making concessions to try and remain alive. Legion teams are becoming more lenient by allowing some of their players to double up their playing time by also competing at the travel tournament level. More and more, local outfits are shying away from scheduling weekend contests on a regular basis in order to allow the travel programs to conduct their games. However, the travel programs do not appear so eager to cooperate.

Recently, Legion officials made the decision to shorten their Senior Division games to seven innings, hoping it will also be more appealing to participants. The organization’s Junior Division, catering to an even younger set of prospects, has also increased the amount of play. The season extends over a mere six-week period for most teams. The more successful ones carry over into additional time for postseason play.

One would like to think that travel teams could limit their number of scheduled events during the heat of the American Legion season. After all, in my scorebook, that phase of play still provides any and all baseball players with the best pitch to hit.

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